Migration Beyond the Data and Numbers

The theoretical view on migration

Talking about migration with our eyes on Central America has different implications. In this territory, we can see migration from the theoretical and investigative aspects and analyze the profiles of migrants and how they have changed from the ’80s, nowadays, showing a high representation of young people and women. We can also understand migration from migratory flows and dynamics that are experienced in the region. Noting that although the territory only has 522,762 square kilometers, it introduces a SOUTHERN flow, from Nicaragua as the country of origin, to Costa Rica and Panama, as destinations. On the other hand, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala have a NORTHERN flow, bound for the United States and Mexico. Likewise, we can find migratory movements that range from transnational migration to internal forced displacement and return. So, when we talk about Central American migration, we are presented with an issue as broad as the ability of Central Americans to dream of a better future.

In Central America, we also find migration that is not discussed from a theoretical perspective, from academia, but rather, from the depersonalization of the subjects of migration, as numerical data. Maybe when saying numbers instead of names, it hurts less, because for Central America migration is a human movement born in the guts of social inequality, lack of respect for human rights, despair, fear, and hunger.

Beyond theoretical aspects of migration

This American territory traversed by post-war economic crises, dictatorial governments, organized crime, climatic phenomena … terrible structural violence, is the perfect breeding ground for root causes of migration. It is the space where the dream of migrants is born, the utopia of many Central American citizens, the cause of insomnia or nightmare of relatives who remain. In Central America, people are migrating to save their lives, to have a chance! Yes, an opportunity to live away from violence, or to have a job that allows their family to eat, study and have basic dignity.

From the outside, It may be difficult to imagine what could motivate a Honduran mother to leave the “safety of her country” to cross the dangerous territories of Guatemala and Mexico on foot with her children in her arms to reach the United States … from the outside, it may seem reckless for a 26-year-old to hide in the fuselage of an airplane and stowaway exposing his life to reach the United States … perhaps in the eyes of those who live in other latitudes, the hundreds of minors unaccompanied heading to North America are nothing more than a reflection of the lack of responsibility of parents. However, those of us who live in this territory know that each conjunctural situation worsens the already precarious economy of Central Americans. In 2020 we faced a pandemic that continues to extend the failures of the health system of our countries, impacting more to those who are already vulnerable. In the same year, the storms ETA and IOTA hit Central America, making a large part of the Honduran population homeless. All of this leaves us with no possibility of dreaming of a life in our land, our homes.

For those who see the dynamics of the human movement of Central America from the other side, it is necessary to humanize your gaze and ask yourselves: How desperate must a mother be to decide to migrate with her children in her arms, in such risky conditions, on foot, and with no money? What is happening in a country, so that this mother is only one of the thousands who walk in a caravan? What level of anguish must a young person have to get into the fuselage of a plane at the risk of being crushed by the landing gear? What is happening in a country, so that someone risks dying to live?

To see the migrations beyond the numbers and the data is to go in our minds to those cardboard, sheet, and plastic houses and imagine a mother and her children praying at night with a father and husband who is now “a migrant, another number.” It is to imagine eating one last meal with him, maybe a coffee with bread or an omelet and salt, and feeling the lump in your throat because of his departure. It is knowing the overwhelming loneliness of a departure filled with uncertainty, and the great debt acquired with coyotes. It is letting him pursue the dream of a better life for all, without knowing if he will end up like the victims of the Tamaulipas massacre that mourned the town of Comitancillo San Marcos, in Guatemala, or the 166 victims of the recent tragedy that occurred in Chiapas on December 9.

After celebrating the international Human Rights Day on December 10, and today as we celebrate the International Day of Migrants … let us be aware that the deaths and injuries in the Chiapas tragedy are nothing more than the cry of Central America saying that in the matter of human rights there is nothing to celebrate.

We ask ourselves, what can be done? Specifically, as we approach Christmas. Remember the text of the Bible Matthew 25 verses 31:46, remember that being human is wonderful, reach out to the migrant, see him with eyes of compassion and love, give him a glass of water, live the culture of hospitality, it is what makes us human.

Hospitality as a Response to the Different Modes of Expression of Hostility to Migration

This article makes three key points on the dire reality of the US-Mexican border. Firstly, we examine the migratory phenomenon in general and with regard to what is currently taking place on the U.S.-Mexico border, as a sign of the times. There is no better adjective than hostility to describe that reality, marked as it is by exploitation and death. Secondly, based on Catholic Social Teaching, we present the virtue of hospitality as an appropriate response to these patterns. Finally, in a pastoral perspective, we suggest how hostility can be replaced by hospitality.

Migration has always been part of human history. There are many factors that pushed and still push people to move from one place to another. In recent times, migration has become more and more complicated, but this does not prevent people from migrating. The end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century have seen an unprecedented wave of mass migrations. In order to migrate, people either have to go through daunting bureaucratic gymnastics to get a visa or are simply denied access to the land of their dreams for no good reason. But who can hold back a determined soul from migrating? This is a question that must be considered.

More often than not, people migrate because their lives are threatened. Those who flee the misery of their region or their country and wish to find a better life elsewhere set off with a destination in mind, but without any certainty that they will reach it. In this quest for a better life, they are often met with hostility. This is not to say that every attempt to migrate to another region or country always entails an experience of hostility, nor is hostility intrinsic to migration. However, many places can indeed be considered to be hostile environments for migrants; the US-Mexico border is certainly one of them.

Migrants at that border are faced with hostility on many levels. The means of travel and security checks, far from leading to a safe port, place migrants in extremely dangerous conditions. As a result, they are exploited, and worse, many have disappeared without a trace. Paradoxically, they lose their lives while looking for a better life. Life is lost in the search of it!
As an answer to hostility, the virtue of hospitality, in principle, is capable of creating conditions where migrants can be considered as full subjects, as children of God. In this sense, the virtue of hospitality can inform a theoretical framework to sustain a common ground based on equality, where the welcomed and the hospitable can enrich each other. In this light, the suffering of the migrant becomes a challenge and an invitation to action, to translate hospitality into practice. Practicing hospitality means listening, in order to be able to create bonds of trust. True hospitality is never neutral, it entails standing up for others. This can be a hard task, but the way of hospitality leads us there, on the way to communion.

Read the full piece here.

In Venezuela, Life Cannot Longer Wait

About 6 million Venezuelans have left their country during the first two decades of the 21st century, the vast majority have been forced to flee, especially since 2016. This exodus is massive, precarious and multi-causal. Despite COVID-19, the migratory flow dynamics have regained their driving force. The vast majority of Venezuelans who walk, or have settled outside of Venezuela, do so in neighboring countries and in Latin American territory. The Venezuelan diaspora competes with that of Syria to top the world ranking of people in need of international protection. Meanwhile, the situation in Venezuela continues to deteriorate in terms of incompatibility of dignified life opportunities. If the question is to live, shouldn’t the international community offer a humanitarian response, with full access to rights and guaranteeing due protection? On World Refugee Day, we must remember that the Venezuelan exodus is an exodus of people seeking refuge.

From our perspective of a Network focused on Migrants, we could be tempted to fix our gaze, alone, on forced migration as a consequence of a country that is publicly and socially broken. We would have plenty of work. Despite the massive humanitarian urgency that the Venezuelan migratory flow represents; despite restrictive policies and various strategies of rejection and expulsion from countries of transit and destination; despite the growing political, media, and social trend that contributes to xenophobia and the criminalization of migration; despite the high risk of the journey, especially for certain vulnerable groups like women and children; despite the general precariousness of the conditions of walkers, etc… Despite all this, we cannot put aside the crisis that is being experienced within Venezuela. A profound multidimensional crisis, in which forced migration is only one of the expressions. A radical change in the internal situation of the country cannot be postponed. Today, Venezuela has an array of reasons that force millions of Venezuelans to flee the country – each time in worse conditions – or that condemn individuals to a life without possibilities (without hope?). Our call for the protection of the Venezuelan people who have left cannot silence the international responsibility, as humanity, to respond today to what is lived within Venezuela.

Let’s go back to the exodus. In recent years, rather than a change in the profile of who is fleeing, we have identified this profile has become generalized. Any Venezuelan is potentially a forced migrant because of the impossibility of accessing rights or the possibility of being subject to true risk within the country, there are not exceptions, but generalized features. For a long time, the conditions for the road have not been a determining factor in making the decision to move. The migratory call increasingly responds to a desperate attempt to live, regardless of the adjective or fundamentally broken right that we place next to it. This supposes an exponential increase in the migratory phenomenon with an absence of a true life project as a migrant, forced migration is proof that life, under certain conditions, can no longer be an expectation. Life is walking.

Linked to the lack of conditions to undertake the trip, we must bear in mind that the migration route, much earlier than at airports or official crossings between countries, begins at the door of the home or community. The internal transit in Venezuela towards the borders – at times remains invisible – posing extreme difficulty and high risks. This internal forced displacement requires humanitarian accompaniment and comprehensive protection. The scarcity of resources, limitations on humanitarian actors in Venezuela, and exposure to risks from legal and illegal frameworks in the country make humanitarian responses highly complicated.

The conditions of international transit propose other peculiarities and risks but fall under the same light as fragility, vulnerability, and precariousness. Crossing the border (either through official or unofficial paths) does not imply a triumphant arrival at a goal, nor does it necessarily imply the culmination of success. The humanitarian situation of the migrant walkers is alarming. There are many actors and situations of risk – trafficking and trafficking schemes throughout the continent, and shipwrecks in the Caribbean, among many others. Countries and the international community as a whole, cannot abstract from the collective responsibility for this map of disasters in the conditions of migration. Restrictive policies, the closure and militarization of borders, and other strategies to deter migration cause the disappearance and death of thousands of migrants, the alarming humanitarian situation, and deportation. Venezuelan forced migration is overwhelming and will continue to overwhelm any attempt to contain it, as long as the root causes of it remain.

The integration spaces in the host countries show very different realities. More than half of the Venezuelan people who make up this mass migration lack a regular situation in the country where they are, this implies an obvious limitation of access to rights and protection. In general, there are no reception policies that are truly comprehensive; that respond to the multiple dimensions of the human being; that take into consideration the differential approaches that respond to particularities of gender, age, ethnicity, sexual identity, and so on. The livelihoods of migrant populations have been especially affected during the pandemic. In many cases, the essential contribution they have made to society (care, food, etc.) has not been recognized. On the contrary, xenophobic discourses are constructed for electoral purposes, denying the human condition of the foreigner and identifying him/her as an invader or criminal. There are still territories that deny or limit access to the vaccine due to immigration status.

Every June 20 the international calendar reminds us of the reality of millions of refugees or people in need of international protection. Most never achieve recognition of their right to asylum. As UNHCR already did in May 2019, as well as a large part of civil society, we affirm that the Venezuelan forced migratory flow must be considered as a migratory flow in need of international protection. States must ensure access to territories and asylum procedures. This cannot be what limits access to other rights associated with any process of regularization and comprehensive reception. For this reason, the Red Jesuita con Migrantes and Magis Americas, along with other allied organizations and networks, within the framework of the Donors Conference in solidarity with Venezuelan Migrants and Refugees held June 17th in Canada, provided a set of recommendations to the international community to make a turn in its political action.

Life is what is at stake, and life cannot wait.